’56 Springboks versus New Zealand Universities

22 August 1956 – Athletic Park, Wellington 

Springboks 15 / New Zealand Juniors 22 

Noticeably, conversation about the 1956 tour always detour to the match against the New Zealand Universities. Historically, it was the first time a New Zealand University team played against an international touring side but this match is synonymous with the 1956 tour for other reasons. The fact that the Universities team won is also not really the main reason why Kiwi’s still rate this match as the best match of the tour. It was the manner in which the Universities team won that delighted the New Zealand rugby fraternity. All the good football came from the home side. The backs demonstrated opportunism, sensible anticipation and application while the pack totally dominated proceedings. The game is nevertheless mostly remembered as the game of the great Ron Jardon ‘try-that-wasn’t’. A great howl went up in protest when Jardon was called back after a spectacular 65 meter run through almost the entire Springbok team (listen to Winston McCarthy highlights of the match here) and old-timers almost without exception still mention the Jardon try to this day whenever the 1956 tour are under discussion.

The match has been lauded as an example of a classic rugby match. Fact is it was not really a classical match due to too many handling mistakes and a general lack of technical perfection but in context of the 1956 tour by far the most thrilling and exciting tour match. 

From a South African perspective it was a despairing loss; the timing was despairing (immediately after the despairing 3rd test loss when the team was in need for something to lift them out of the depth of despair) and the manner in which they lost despairing in its effect on team morale. The series was gone; the team was struggling to pick itself up after the 3rd test humiliation when they encountered the university team who won them with their own game; running rugby. Blaming Skinner, the wet fields and the All Blacks kick-and-chase-style was a convenient way to justify inadequacies in the group. Losing against youngsters who played open Varsity running rugby (upon which South African rugby is ultimately based with Stellenbosch, UCT and Pretoria being the heart of respectively Western Province and Northern Transvaal rugby) in ideal conditions was an emotionally bruising bubble popping wake-up call. 

The difference between the test side and the Saturday side was never more glaringly obvious than in this match. The selection ‘errors’ on the day -and in construction of the team as a whole even before they left South Africa- produced a midweek pack of forwards that was frankly appalling. Their tight work was virtually non-existent; they showed no drive, no cohesion; the line-out work was untidy; they were, in fact, little more than rabble. Chris Koch who was nursing a sore jaw after a gruelling time in the test the previous weekend should have been rested but was picked to play. Newton-Walker a prop was instead selected to play on the lock while Jan Pickard who would have made a better lock was included as number eight. It was in short a serious mistake to leave Lochner, Retief and Ackermann on the side while picking a lock at number eight against a fast moving student side on a dry field.    

The Springbok forwards was bustled of the ball and it didn’t take the students long to realise there was no protection for the South African scrumhalf. Coenraad Strydom had as a consequence the worst game of his entire tour. Under extreme and constant pressure he was thrown completely out of his game and hassled into errors. This had an insidious effect on flyhalf Bennett Howe and the rest of the backline. Howe an elusive playmaker who can confuse his opponents –and to some extent his own-team mates- was a mixture of good and bad. Things were made worse by Rosenberg re-injuring his hamstring while Kirkpatrick normally a very accomplished rugby player seemed unable to hold a pass. Things went from bad to worse when Kirkpatrick and Howe swapped places (Howe moving to outside centre) in the latter stages of the match. On an individual basis a few Springboks tried hard like Koch, Johnstone (who was trying to find his way back into the test team) and Harry Newton-Walker. James Starke had a mediocre game in his second match after arriving in New Zealand as replacement for Basie van Wyk. Melt Hanekom won the tight head battle 3-1 but was frequently penalised by referee Tindill for ‘foot up’.

Jan Pickard

Jan Pickard (see picture on the left) considered by some to be the best leader in the group looked jaded in this match according to one report. McLean (Battle for the Rugby Crown) had the following to say about Pickard’s performance/contributions in this match: Pickard, leader of the forwards, soon began speaking to them and by the tone of his voice instantly reminded me of some regimental sergeants-major whom I would still like to meet on a dark night when I had a cosh and they hadn’t. The forwards reacted to as we all reacted to the RSM’s and they even showed some wish to imitate Pickard after he had blatantly, and inexcusably  put his shoulder into Jardon when the latter had parted with the ball.   

1956 Basie Viviers Varsity match756

This picture shows Basie Viviers in action against the students. The player in process of tackling Viviers is winger Diack and the university player behind Viviers is flyhalf Fitzpatrick. Viviers according to one report had a poor day with the boot and did look uncertain under pressure on occasion. About his general performance on tour the report states that he sometimes gathered the ball beautifully and that he sometimes kicked splendidly but that he never quite impressed as the complete fullback. He didn’t move smoothly –his laboured gait could conceivably have been due to the injury he suffered earlier in the tour. 

The Springbok team that played in this match: Basie Viviers; Roy Dryburg; Ian Kirkpatrick; Wilf Rosenberg; Paul Johnstone; Bennett Howe; Coenraad Strydom; Jan Pickard; Chris de Wilzem; Chris de Nysschen; Harry Newton-Walker; James Starke; Chris Koch; Melt Hanekom; Piet du Toit. 

The Varsity side by contrast was a side full of quality players at the peak of their physical prowess who had beaten Wellington and Manawatu in lead-up games. New Zealand University sides -like in South Africa- are not chosen entirely from full-time students. It includes graduates and other former students who continue to play for university clubs. There was experience, there was proper coaching and preparation, there was intelligence, and there was true athleticism and class in the Varsity team. Four players in the backline were All Blacks and two more namely Brain Molloy and ‘Tuppy’ Diack would later play international rugby for New Zealand. The pack had two All Blacks namely John Buxton and Bill Clark while Wilson Whineray and Des Webb were future All Blacks.

Univeristy gameThis picture shows the Universities captain John Buxton speaking over the announcement system to the crowd after the match. There was a festive post-match atmosphere with some speeches and lots of singing. 56 Universities team336

The University team that played against the 1956 Springboks can be seen in the picture above 

The game 

The game started with a try by the Springboks and finished with two quick tries by the University side. The first try came within 30 seconds after kick-off. Dryburg following through on a kick downfield by Howe was able to gather the ball and score when the ball jumped awkwardly for fullback Dineen. 

1956 Dryburg Varsity match757This picture shows Dryburg being boxed in by three Varisty players, Hutchinson, Diack and Bremmer. Where the students defence were outstanding there could be no denying that their attacking plays –although very good- was helped by some shocking defensive lapses by the Springboks. Maxwell Price (Springboks at Bay) writes, ‘no South African international team should have tackled as weakly as the Springboks did on that day, and there was again the failure to fall on the ball to stop the foot rush’. 

The students responded to Dryburg’s try with two penalties in the 3rd and 5th minutes of the game to take the lead. 

Viviers tied the score soon afterwards when Whineray was caught offside. 

Kirkpatrick won the race to the line to score the Springboks second and last try when De Wilzem hoofed the ball ahead after a fumble behind the Varisty scrum. Viviers missed again with the conversion to make the score 9-6 in South Africa’s favour. This happened in the 15th minute but by half time Varsity was leading 11-9 when Molloy (No8) broke around a loose scrum with Whineray supporting before shifting the ball to flanker Clark who scored. 

Viviers missed with a penalty soon after half time but then succeeded with a 45-meter kick after an excellent run by Paul Johnstone. 

The Springboks were in the lead for the third time (and last time) but there was no stopping the students. First, Clark dropped the ball with an open run to the line after Fitzpatrick (No10) broke clean through the Springbok backline. Some more weak Springbok defence then allowed Tanner to pick-up from a ruck, run free, drew a man, and feed Jardon who raced around Dryburg to score under the posts. Dineen converted and Varsity was leading 16-12.  

Dryburg put the Springboks within one point (16-15) with a magnificent penalty goal from the touchline with about 10 minutes of play left on the clock. This penalty resulted from yet another good run by Johnstone. 

This brought about the most exciting part of the match. McLean writes: …the situation with 10 minutes to play was that University had gained 16 points and the South Africans 15. Now began the most vital, enthralling and captivating kind of finish you could ever wish to see. It was so good that the memories of some unpleasant exchanges earlier in the game were erased and Viviers was able to say, with a ring of complete sincerity,Thanks very much for a magnificent game. The better side won, make no mistake about that.” 

First, Diack on the wing put in a dashing run down the side-line to score after some good work on the blindside by Molloy and Clark. In response the Springboks attacked after a solid scrum and good heel by Hanekom. Johnstone, the blindside wing, jumped into the line creating the overlap. The ball went to Kirkpatrick who spun to Rosenburg in space but Tanner intercepted spectacularly and started an unbearable exciting 60-meters run chase to the line to score Varsities 4th try. 

1956 Tanner Scoring Varisty matchThis picture shows Tanner scoring his dramatic intercept try. 

Right at the end Jardon send the 44 000 spectators into a frenzy with an outstanding swerve run after he wiggled himself out of a tackle to score a try that was not because he stepped out half-way through his endeavour. 

When the final whistle went Varsity recorded the highest winning margin against the touring Springboks, 22-15. 

It was an emphatic victory. It was the ultimate indignity. Playing fast and mostly open football, the Universities had beaten the Springboks convincingly at a style and in environmental conditions that should have brought out the best in them. 

The New Zealand Herald commented . . . So, for the first time on tour, New Zealand backs took on the much-vaunted Springboks at the running and passing game, and by enterprise, intelligence and fine running beat the visitors at their strongest point. What was more, the University forwards, all magnificent workers, established a definite superiority over the Springboks. It followed that the touring team was beaten because it was beaten by a better team.”  

Basie Viviers after University matchBasie Viviers addressing the crowd in the grand stand after the Universities match. Craven and Viviers were composed and serene in defeat and lavish in their praise. Craven said ‘the Springboks do not mind losing against a team playing such fine rugby as the Varsity team’. Viviers never more exemplary as Captain than in this moment spoke with perfect grace and simplicity, and before he could even finish the crowd was singing at the top of its voice, ‘For he is a jolly good fellow’. The crowd was then invited to farewell the Springboks by singing ‘Sarie Marais’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ where-upon Basie stepped-up to the microphone and said something like: “That was lovely, I shall tell my mother about you all”; a comment that melted many a female heart. ‘There was nothing else to do’ write Maxwell Price, ‘but to give the New Zealand University team full credit for their win’. Beneath it all there was however dreadful disappointment in the Springbok camp. The Springboks now had only one success (at Wanganui) in their last four games.   

1956 Cartoon University match755This cartoon of the Varsity victory is applicable in more than one way. The description below says ‘So far the rugby seemed to bring out the animal in (previous victors having had animals as tokens) us but with their well merited victory the students did something to restore the balance. It was the fifth Springbok loss but the first one that evidenced mostly recommendable sportsmanship by both players and spectators up to that point during the 1956 tour. Maxwell Price wrote that the violence and the deliberate obstruction in the forwards that he witnessed on the 1956 tour was a shock to him after many years of watching rugby. It was robust play carried to far. Forward and breakdown techniques of aggression, dominance, pressure and interference being carried too far. Optimized to a point where it might mean the end of rugby union if it is not corrected opinionated Price in his book ‘Springboks at Bay’. This match was in light of the general happenings (on and off the field) of the 1956 tour a breath of fresh air.

19 thoughts on “’56 Springboks versus New Zealand Universities

  1. I don’t know whether to curse you or thank you for this post Mac. Brings back
    memories of being curled up in bed listening to the broadcast with growing frustration.

    • Yes, I can just imagine the frustration. No more sleep after such a game. I was too young at that stage to listen to it (in fact not even born) but would have been irritable for the rest of the day (if not next two weeks). They made up in the next game against the Maori (which I write about next) but that was just a last flare-up before the final defeat in the 4th test.

  2. Not sure if you mentioned it McLook, but Brian Fitzpatrick was the father of South Africa’s favourite (!) modern All Black….Sean.

    Apparently Brian passed on his competitiveness to his son. He had been in the last All Black team that had ever lost to Wales in Cardiff in 1953 – a game, like the RWC quarter-final the Boks lost in 2011, that the All Blacks should never have lost. The All Blacks were camped in the Welsh quarter for about 25 continuous minutes of the second half of that game, and Brian Fitzpatrick had been held up over the line, but the score that would have won it for them never came their way. Such was Brian’s disappointment, he never wanted to go back to Wales, even to watch his son play there!

    The 1956 NZ Universities win was a fascinating bright-spot of constructive New Zealand back play in an era between about 1950 (after the shock of Hennie Muller in 1949 had forced a defensive mindset in NZ back play), and Fred Allen’s 1967 team to Britain and France. Fred Allen was so determined to get the All Blacks running the ball that he dropped the No. 1 NZ goal kicker Mick Williment for Fergi McCormick at fullback. It was a bit like the Conquistador Cortes burning his ships when his men landed to conquer the Aztecs – there is now way out of this but to attack!.

    Other than this game against the 1956 Springboks, it is difficult to recall a single international game that entire period (1950-1966), whether All Blacks or provincial, where the NZ backline was superior to overseas opposition – whether British/Irish, French, Australian or South African.

    New Zealand has produced an abundance of greatinside and mid-field backs in her history (Stead, Hunter and Deans in 1905, Nicholls, Cooke and Lucas in 1924-25, Robertson and Osborne in the 1970s, Fox, Schuster and Stanley in the 1980s, Mehrtens and Spencer, Little and Bunce in the 1990s). But for that entire period from 1950 to 1966 there was not 1 single world class inside or midfield back from NZ – and yet it was the era of great backs like Cliff Morgan, Jeff Butterfield, Phil Davies, Bev Rsiman, David Hewitt, Richard Sharp, David Watkins, Mike Gibson, Pierre Albaladejo, Andre & Guy Boniface, Phil Hawthorne, Wilf Rosenberg, John Gainsford, Mannetjies Roux, and Jannie Barnard in the rest of the world.

    New Zealand wanted to win so badly in 1956 (and afterwards because they loved the taste of being on top) that they went through the entire period of extraordinary dominance of 1950 to 1966 (they only lost one series – just! – in 1960), with great forwards and goal kickers, while their backs were sterile, risk-free, and without the courage to attack.

    Except the New Zealand Universities in the 1956 game against the Springboks. It was almost as if they were the voice of conscience reminding NZ what their backs could and should play like. That is why this game was remembered for many years afterwards in the NZ rugby community.

    • Great remarks, Kimbo. I was not aware that Brain was Sean’s father.

      While reading and listening to commentary (McCarthy) about this match I sensed that the elaborate appreciation of this match had something to do with the sterile back line play in NZ at the time. You explain the mindset well but it does show how obsession to win and attitude can hamstrung a sport/country.

      SA went through something similar in the Bosch and Naas Botha era’s.

  3. Thank you for this!

    It is really sad how seemingly(?) little is done to commemorate our rugby past… Political reasons aside (and they are, of course, very difficult to ignore) – the simple fact remains that some brilliant rugby stories and memories have been created over the past decades, and it would be a travesty for these to simply disappear in the ether…

    Hopefully that new museum in Cape Town will do a proper job of it as well!

    • Thanks. I am glad you enjoyed it. As for the commemoration of our rugby past I have no lofty goals with this blog or my website (see here: http://springbokrugby.webs.com/). It’s sort of a hobby; I like rugby and history and have a huge collection of rugby material.

      For myself, researching and reading the material brings more objective perspective of Springbok rugby. My views have been a bit skewed by the indoctronating afrikaner media into believing the Springboks were invincible in the past. Also the idea that the Springboks always played 10-man kicking rugby is not entirely correct. There were periods when we played good running rugby like in 1937 and 1952. In 1956 Craven selected a team to play the same style as the 1952 team did in the UK. The All Blacks countered with the kick and chase conservative style and we lost and that turned the tide for SA rugby back into the Olser style (dictating flyhalf game). We lost in 1956 not because the style was wrong but because our forward play was not good enough. We were behind the times with regard to breakdown skills/structures in 1956 and never caught up. Apparently, Heynecke Meyer has made an intensive study of the breakdown and hopefully we’ll see some forward movement in that area of our game this year.

      Hopefully he’ll also look at the ‘linking’ game that Craven brought to SA rugby. The All blacks play like that lately and it works for them because their set piece and breakdown skills are in place. We need at least one loosefoward in the team who have the speed, skills and fitness to link up with the backline. My concern is that to much focus on the breakdown will take us back into stampkar rugby. Hopefully Meyer understand the difference between linking rugby (like Kieran Read and Alan Thompson are playing) and stampkar rugby and will select a loosetrio combination that will allow us to be effective at the breakdown and enable us to link (support on the shoulder to take offloads in the tackle).

  4. “We need at least one loosefoward in the team who have the speed, skills and fitness to link up with the backline”

    There is a great maxim that a Wellington coacxh of the 1950s, Vince Paino used that sums it up well: –

    “The speed of your backline is the speed of the slowest back. The speed of your forwards is the speed of the fastest forward”. Took me a while to work out what it means, but once you have (and it is to do with backs and forwards inter-linking, and the key role of the “fetcher” as you saffers call them), the understanding is worth it!

  5. Ron Jarden, who died tragically young in 1977 wrote an excellent coaching book in 1961 (I think you’ve mentioned you have a copy, McLook, and looking at your post, I’m guessing you’ve used it as a source. I’ll quote in in full to further the discussion).

    Of the 1956 NZ Universites vs Springbok game, he wrote (reflecting back on memorable games in his career): –

    “And there were occasions where everything happened at once…

    By August 22, 1956, I had played four games against South Africa – three tests and for Wellington – but my hopes had not been realised. Despite the tries in the first and third tests, I had still not pitted myself against the Springbok defence. Surely, I felt, in this New Zealand Universities game on the Wednesday following the third test we would have the opportunity of playing the passing game. I will always feel that the South African selectors took the New Zealand Universities team too lightly. Several test players were rested, and the team that was fielded was far below full strength. But the best news of all was the announcement that neither Reteif, Lochner nor Ackermann would be playing. Instead, Dr Craven played three relatively slow forwards in the flank and back row positions. They were Starke, Pickard (in the back) and de Wilzem. With the knowledge that the ‘terrible three’ would not be playing, the policy N.Z.U. coach Dick Burke had decided upon proved entirely justified. The passing game proved on the day to be the winning game. As the game progressed, the redoubtable Springboks vainly tried to reorganise and consolidate, but with the way that fortune so often seems to run when a vigourous team gets on top, N.Z.U. took a lot of holding, and the South Africans went from bad to worse.

    If I have been asked once, I have been asked a thousand times: ‘Did you know that you put your foot out?’ My answer has always been: ‘I knew I was close, but I didn’t intend to stop then and have a look.’ The ball had come out along the line just outside our own twenty five, and John Tanner wasted no time in giving me a perfect pass. By the time I received it, I knew I had little room to move in and that the cover defence was moving across quickly. I propped into Roy Dryburgh, pulled him up short and lunged frantically round to the outside. He quickly regained his balance and as I strained to evade his outstretched hands, I knew that somewhere, very close indeed, was the sideline. As I pressed past I shaped up to and away from two covering forwards, and with little room to spare outpaced a couple more coming across. As Paul Johnstone came in from the other wing in cover defence I propped inside and somehow staggered the last 25 yards, finishing up in a shattered heap five yards on the right-hand side of the goalpost.

    From nowhere a seething mass of humanity descended upon me, and, as I related to Winston McCarthy afterwards, my chief impression of the moment was not the try so much as the fumes of alcohol, the variety of stockinged and trousered legs, and, thankfully, a policeman’s boots firmly representing the voice of authority. As I got to mt feet I saw the group of players by the sideline and realised that I had put my foot out, but the feeling of satisfaction at having at last been able to ‘have a go’ against the worthiest opponents of all was ample compensation for the disappointment of missing out on the try”.

    • Interesting how he refers to the ‘terrible three’ in refering to De Wilzem, Pickard and Starke.

      Also very interesting the fact that the coach decided on running with the ball because Lochner, Retief and Ackermann wasn’t playing. Lochner in particular ssemed to have been a bit of a scare for the NZ backline players. He received death threat before the Maori game. Do you know anything about that as I can’t find specific information on why he received the threats?

      Back to Jardon. Yes it was according too all my sources the first real opportunity Jardon got too run at the Springboks. That is receiving fast frontfoot ball in space.

      I think the NZ public was a bit hard on him (apparently some couldn’t handle him) because he was clearly a player who could create something from nothing. He took some flack after the second test due to his plce kicking and being out of postion with Retief’s try.

    • “I will always feel that the South African selectors took the New Zealand Universities team too lightly.”

      I also sense that was the case. Maxwell Price (the SA journo on tour with the team) wrote that they (the Springboks) looked forward to a light opne varsity type game.

      SA could still have won the game if they succeeded with all their penalty kicks and conversions. Nevertheless the defence was poor and the forward play a mess indicating a motivation problem.

      Fact that Pickard started to talk too the team with no mentioning of Viviers (who was also on the field) indicates a leadership problem in the group.

  6. The interesting thing I find about Jarden’s book is his subtle understanding of coaching, team strategy, tactics, skills, preparation (particularly practice), and how they interact in real-life rugby situations.

    For example, even though Jarden was the player above all others whom the NZ public felt had missed out on attacking opportunities due to the “safe/boring” tactics of the 1953-54 All Black team in Britain and France (where the home teams had almost adopted wholesale the ‘Hennie Muller/No. 8 marauding game’), Jarden defended the tactics of that tour:

    “Early in the tour…late one afternoon a meeting was called in order to discuss the problems with which we had been faced on the field of play (Jarden is referring specifically to “aggressive and spoiling forwards”). Each of the players in the (manager’s) room that day had the opportunity to come forward with his ideas on combating the spoiling Rugby which we were meeting in every game. Not one of us had any solution to offer other than what was already being tried by the team committee…I feel most strongly, therefore, that if any criticism is to be levelled against the play adopted by the 1953-54 team, then the responsibility for meeting that criticism lies with all of us who were given the opportunity of finding a solution. I certainly do not intend to play the popular game of being wise after the event and criticising our team managers and leaders for their actions when I was unable to provide anything better myself.

    During most of the games we faced aggressive and efficient spoiling forwards. If the strategy we adopted has not stood the test of time, it can also be said that in that strategy lay the germ of the idea that was to flourish into the successful measures we adopted against the Springboks. In 1953 and 1954 we achieved superiority in the forwards and played the line (Jarden means kicking it out upfield as the 1920s and 30s Springbok flyhalf Bennie Osler had first pioneered as a deliberate and concerted strategy instead of using the backline to attack in the first instance, as the ‘bounce-into-touch rule’ was not in effect in those days); in 1956 we carried that a stage further and instead of playing the line played for the second-phase ruck from which we could effectively attack in the backs. To the fact that were were not able on many occasions to pass the ball freely, must be added another important factor. This is the aspect of tension and responsibility during international tours…

    It was only natural that after a while our team managers expected every game to be of the same type, and the only criticism that I feel will be of any help to future teams is that this attitude (Jarden means ‘safety-first’ rugby in response to the Hennie Muller-type marauder) can often be a mistaken one. Several times during the tour we met teams against which we could have played more open Rugby…there were many occasions when opportunities offering for open back play went begging. Our main fault, therefore, during the tour was that we did not treat each game on its merits and followed, instead, an identical pattern in practically every game.

    The criticism applies even more in New Zealand to-day (and remember, Jarden is writing in 1961). We have become ‘No. 8 conscious’, and rather hysterically have allowed ourselves to be frightened into imagining that every forward who stands off is a potential Hennie Muller. The No. 8 game is more difficult to play than it is to oppose, and we must not allow ourselves to become one-tracked in our Rugby thinking simply because of the current fetish for loose-forward spoiling play. There is no question that in many parts of this country to-day provincial and club Rugby is being spoiled because coaches, captains and players will not have these loose forwards on, nor adopt tactics to meet particular circumstances as they arise…”

    So having thrown down the gauntlet for NZ rugby to transform its play by revising its attitude, Jarden then goes on to highlight WHAT specifically needs to change to achieve attacking rugby (as per the title of his book): –

    The real weakness with New Zealand back play is in the lack of variety, its lack of individualism, and its adherence too rigidly to set predetermined patterns of back play. It is the result of years of conditioning regarding the function of each back and his relation to the fellows inside and outside him, and the over-emphasis in New Zealand on the operation of the back line as a unit instead of a group of seven individuals combining as a unit. For years we have developed our back play along set lines under the constant direction to ‘pass out to the wings’ and to run straight at all costs. Our back play has in consequence become completely ‘channelised’, in that each player has tended to remain in what he calls his ‘position’ and to concentrate his running, and indeed most of his play, along the narrow channel between himself and the opposing goal-line…

    …While retaining our attitude towards the importance of team strategy, we can and should seek to improve the play of each individual. This not only improves the attacking potential of the players themselves but also enables team tactics and strategies to be more effectively carried out, simply because the players are more capable of executing them. We must overcome the lack of variety and the habitual orthodoxy in passing and running.

    Here a word of warning. New Zealanders must not allow their traditional proficiency in basic skills to be superseded by an inane desire to open up the play at all costs simply for the satisfaction of being able to say ‘We play bright, open Rugby’. Precision has been the keynote of our game and must continue to be. It is in this respect that South Africa and New Zealand differ from all other countries. It is neither clever nor sensible to take unnecessary risks in a position where a dropped pass or a loose ball can result in a gift try for the opposition. If we are to start an era of scissors-passing or reverse-passing, for example, then we must change these movements from being haphazard gambles they are to-day to movements of precision and skill…above all, I believe we should concentrate more upon the development of the individual skill of our backs…as with individual skills, so we should attempt to make more of combinations between related positions, such as half-back and first five-eighth, second five-eighth and centres, centres and wingers, half-backs and wingers”

  7. With that basic intent of his book explained, Jarden then went on lay out in detail in the rest of the volume the individual and collective skills New Zealand rugby needed to adopt and coach so that attacking rugby was no longer “haphazard gambles” (because of lack of basic skills and an individual and team understanding of when to utilise them), and instead they became “movements” of precision and skill”.

    The fascinating thing for me is to see, with the benefit of some 50 years, how New Zealand rugby transformed itself, at times unwillingly, at times with some coaches and players having to be dragged kicking and screaming. However, even though second-phase, and first phase for that matter, are still corner-stones of NZ rugby today as they were in 1956, the collective NZ skill base amongst our players is at a level where we can now play the sort of game Jarden envisaged in 1961. Nothing happens by accident – change is achieved by people with a plan and purpose, and a knowledge of the intricacies to make it happen, and who has to convinced and persuaded to aid in the cause. We all know that as a basic fact of life, but sometimes we don’t act like it is true, and instead hope for ‘luck’, and ‘chance’, or taking a short-cut for temporary gain, and the expense of long-term benefit. Which is why sport has much to teach us about life.

    I sense at times you and other saffers on this site feel that while South Africa is capable of doing the same, and sometimes does produce monments of real brilliance, some of your coaching is hindering the full development of your attacking potential. Yes, as Jarden argued, in both NZ and South Africa (because of the importance of Rugby, and the expectations of players, coaches, and supporters) you need more than just an empty-headed “let’s play bright football”, where you don’t care if you lose making foolish and needless errors.

    But structure and patterns at their best should be about freeing players, and giving them a context in which to utilise their individual and collective skills when dynamic opportunities arise on the field of play. Strategic and tactical rigidity might be satisfying for the intellectually lazy and emotionally risk-averse. It is often far easier for coaches in the short-term to insist and impose game plans and structures that gives them a sense of “control” over events on the field. It is hard to get the balance right. Nevertheless, developing a team where they can do more than just “follow the coaches orders” – especially if the orders don’t apply because the game is there for the winning by different means – is the real test of a good coach.

    • Yes, the key is finding the balance between playing safe and taking risk. We South Africans look at the way NZ play and feel frustrated with our team’s safety laden approach. It is when you read Jardon that you realise it didn’t happen over night for NZ. Fred Allen was sacked as coach because he promoted the passing game to aggressively at a time when the rest of the NZ rugby fraternity was still coming to grips with it.

      Henry, Smith and Hansen followed Jardon’s advice. They phased the fast passing game in gradually and more importantly with meticulous planning and much emphasis on the fundamentals (skill training and rehearsing every single facet of planned moves) to ensure that control that Jardon advocate as being essential to make it work.

  8. “Lochner in particular ssemed to have been a bit of a scare for the NZ backline players. He received death threat before the Maori game. Do you know anything about that as I can’t find specific information on why he received the threats?”

    No, I wasn’t aware of that. Was that something Lochner talked about in the years afterwards? I assume it was the actions of some deranged idiot getting too caught up in the win-at-all-costs attitude that underlay the NZ attitude to this tour. We have our own Pieter van Zyls here in NZ too!

    Also, and I don’t want to steal your thunder for your next post on the NZ Maori game, but there was a lot of crazy-talk and rumours, and anticipation of a potential blood-bath in NZ Maoris fixture. We’ll leave if for your next post, but over 50 years after the tour, in 2010, poor old long-since-dead Danie Craven who whose 1956 team was subject to so much unreasonable pressure was still being criticised by the NZ media and misrepresented by revisionist agitators with an axe to grind as a racist. If one of his players had received a death threat, then I can quite well understand why he was asked (by NZ rugby officials!) to speak to the Maori team before the game…

    • ‘Was that something Lochner talked about in the years afterwards?’

      No Lochner as far as I can see never mention it. There is reference to it in the subscripts of quite a few of the newspaper pictures I have of that tour. Lochner eventually got injured and didn’t play in the Maori game and the papers mention that he didn’t play due to injury and not because of the death threats.

      Maybe it was just SA newspapers looking for sensation but I’ll keep digging for more info.

  9. “Back to Jardon…I think the NZ public was a bit hard on him (apparently some couldn’t handle him) because he was clearly a player who could create something from nothing. He took some flack after the second test due to his plce kicking and being out of postion with Retief’s try”.

    Yes, Jarden was often criticised, particularly outside of Wellington, and especially in Canterbury, where he had a long-running (on-field) rivalry with his All Black team-mate, Morrie Dixon. Canterbury represented the intensely-physical smash-and-bash safety-first approach that summarised NZ rugby of the time (they held the Ranfurly Shield from 1953-56), whereas Wellington (and also Auckland, and North Auckland) were one of the few places that valued the skill of a back evading his opponent, rather than taking the tackle to set up a ruck.

    For example, this is a description of Jarden by Terry McLean in “Great Days in NZ Rugby” of the 1955 Interisland game played in appalling weather conditions at Athletic Park, Wellington: –

    “The deflection of the kick was a matter of a fraction of a second. In that instant, Jarden’s wonderfully acute reaction set him to work. With lightening swiftness, he darted forward. His faultlessly accurate handling stood to him. The ball was in his arms, he was across the line and before Duff’s cohorts could so much as blink an eye the ball was on the ground and Jarden was pressing it down.

    It was only fitting Jarden should place the goal…the 12,000 bluenosed spectators cheered everyone; and especially did they cheer the man (Jarden) who has scored nine points, the man whose every appearance in an attack had heightened its dramatic content, the man who would cause hundreds, even thousands to hunger for the inevitable moment, week by week on Athletic Park, when he would perform some extraordinary deed and so send them home, contented”

    Jarden placed skill above all others. He used to practise his skills, like side-stepping, and throwing in to the lineout (against the goal post) every lunch time at Athletic Park, such was his “professional” attitude, and desire to perform at his very best potential. In the era, especially to the hard-heads from Canterbury he was viewed as suspect, especially at tackling. The same sort of crap used to get flung from Cantabrians a generation later at another Wellington player who valued and practised skill ahead of mindless physicality and intimidation, Allan Hewson.

    For example, Winston McCarthy writes of Jarden,

    “When a player becomes a sensation, as was Jarden at the time (after his first All Black tour to Australia in 1951), it is inevitable that he becomes closely marked on the field. In other words instructions are usually given for him to be “sat upon”. But never in my experience have I seen any other player so subjected to early and late tackles and blatant obstruction, both in club and representative games. In 1952, when he was the recipient of all these illegal tactics, it was only natural that Ron should become a trifle uneasy. Trying to live up to his reputation he went looking for opportunities in other parts of the field, quite often with disastrous results to his team; and instead of going into his man he began looking for the interception, giving rise to the opinion that his defence was weak. Then, too. when things did not go his way, even with a missed kick at goal, he indulged in mild doses of histrionics which were greeted with high glee by his critics.” (Winston McCarthy, Rugby in my time, 1958)

    Because Jarden was a perfectionist, he seems to have had a perfectionist’s emotional response to disappointment that would have gone down very badly in that time in NZ – it was the time when men especially were discouraged from showing any emotion, especially if they were All Blacks. Whenever you suffered unfairness or a physical beating, the culture insisted you had to stoically and silently endure, or respond with the same methods.

    Being an intelligent man and a University student wouldn’t have helped Jarden’s reputation. NZ was so strongly egalitarian and anti-intellectual at the time, Varsity students were viewed as clever-dicks who had too much to say for themselves, and not real men doing real jobs. For example, other than Otago University in Dunedin the influence of Universities in rugby and wider New Zealand life and culture seems to have been much less than institutions such as UCT or Stellenbosch in South Africa.

    Which is why Kevin Skinner is the enduring hero of 1956, even over 50 years later amongst people who have only the haziest of knowledge about the tour, and wouldn’t know the name Ron Jarden from a bar of soap. But it seems all Kiwis have heard of Kevin Skinner, and Peter Jones being “absolutely buggered”.

    Which is a tragic indictment on the rugby NZ played in 1956, and why it left a legacy of nasty physicality at the expense of skill for years afterwards in our rugby. Jarden may not have had all the physical gifts of later NZ wingers like Bryan Williams, Jonah Lomu, or the other “Polynesian powerhouse wingers” who are common in NZ rugby. But, other than Jeff Wilson (who I don’t think was as psychologically tough), Ron Jarden seems to me to have been about the most skillful winger we ever produced. Any man who could score over 100 first class tries, not to mention many more for Victoria University in the highly competitive Wellington club competition, during an era of such defensive-minded rugby as NZ was in the 1950s must have been a truly great player.

    • Wow, quite a write-up on Jardon, Kimbo. You must be a fan :).

      Seriously, I appreciate where you are coming from. There still is a bit of an anti academic attitude in NZ. Post graduate studies for instances is not something students here in NZ aspire too do. The Keys government just recently got rid of funding for post-graduate studies which make it even harder for students too hang on for a few years to complete a post-grad qualification.

      In South Africa obtaining a post graduate qualification is the in thing. Unfortunately, our rugby fraternatity are obsessed with size and physicality. Not enough attention is given to skill training. I think it is changing but the ratio is probably still 70 percent gym and 30 percent skill. We see it in the way the players play, 70 percent of the time they try to run through the opponent instead of trying to attack space or using running angles/scissors/off-loads to create openings.

  10. Pingback: ’56 Springboks versus New Zealand Universities | SportSquare

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